Simon P. Michaux
Image: Simon Michaux
I am doing work in the following sectors, to understand where we are now and what will be required in the future
Image Copyright: Tania Michaux
I am developing a plan to transform our relationship between energy, minerals,
and industrialization, as the existing proposed strategic plans are shown to be logistically impractical.
A contribution to the start of the discussion.
Associate Professor at Geological Survey of Finland/Geologian Tutkimuskeskus
Circular Economy Solutions Unit KTR
Bach. App Sc (physics & geology)
PhD. Mining Eng.
My work is based on the following principles/observations
I see all things as a system and examine them accordingly.
All wildlife systems are in steep decline. The bottoms of food chains both on land and in the ocean are undergoing high depopulation of species, far in excess of background rates. The planetary environment is deteriorating. If this system passes certain tipping points, it will seek a new equilibrium, resulting in a planet wide bio-shift. Human systems may struggle to function.
The current industrial system is highly dependent on fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal). To transition away from fossil fuels would take something like 20 years if done in an organized fashion without disruption.
Oil, gas, and coal all have unique applications that the current industrial system is dependent on. The current renewable transition technologies are unable to address and replace these applications.
Gas forms a buffer between supply and demand in electrical power generation. A power storage buffer is required to replace it.
Coal is used by industry to generate high temperature heat for manufacturing and smelting. Current renewable systems are unable to deliver such high temperatures in the quantities needed for much of existing manufacturing requirements. At this time, if we phase out fossil fuels, then much of existing manufacturing will also have to be phased out.
81% of existing oil fields are declining at a rate of 5 to 7% per year. Most oil was discovered in the 1960s and 1970s. 2020 showed the lowest volume of oil discovery in the previous 70 years.
Peak oil could be in our past (Nov 2018), but we won’t know until Nov 2023. We need the after-oil plan now, and it must be operational very quickly.
We are looking at radical changes forced on industrial systems, economic systems and the social contract for society. These changes are in progress now and are happening all over the world , in a non-linear fashion.
The basic concepts of how our global system works as described by the Limits to Growth project are correct.
As we transition to a lower energy system (renewables replacing fossil fuels), growth-based economics will be phased out and replaced with something else.
The task to phase out fossil fuels is much larger than first thought.
Current renewable energy systems generally have a lower Energy Returned on Energy Invested ratios (ERoEI) than current fossil fuel-based systems. They may not be productive enough to replace fossil fuels. As such, they may not be the energy foundation for the next industrial era, but a steppingstone to some other kind of energy generation system not yet identified.
Most renewable technologies also require the use of relatively exotic metals like lithium, cobalt and Rare Earth Elements. So far we have mined these elements in comparatively small quantities (compared to say copper, zinc, aluminum or iron). The planned Green Transition will need vast quantities of these metals. Much more than we have ever used before. As most of the non-fossil fuel system is yet to be constructed, it cannot be recycled.
The first generation at least will have to be manufactured using metals sourced from the mining of minerals. As most EV passenger cars, wind turbines, solar panels (etc.) have a working life of 10 to 25 years, if all needed units were manufactured in 2023, then it would not be until 2033 that large volumes would be available for recycling.
Both current mining production (2019) and current stated global mineral reserves (2022) cannot provide sufficient metal to manufacture only one generation of renewable technology units (EV’s, H-cells, batteries, wind turbines and solar panels).
Our industrial ecosystem is at the crossroads between ruin and the stars.
Yet what have we really learned?
How much of what we actually do is inappropriate, driven by wilful ignorance? We have multiple macro scale challenges facing us. All of them have been visible for some time to those willing to see them. Society at large has put off facing these challenges by using cheap abundant fossil fuel energy and by inappropriate management of fiat currencies. Ready or not, the time to face all of these challenges is upon us.
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* Steffen, W. et al (2015): Developments in the planetary boundaries concept provide a framework to support global sustainability, Science 13 Feb 2015: Vol. 347, Issue 6223